Compared to December 2011, Vladimir Putin's approval rating is on the rise and if this tendency continues, Putin will most likely win the March 4th Russian presidential election in the first round. This is mostly due to the mistakes of the opposition and the fact that Russian voters are even more tired of the opposition candidates than of Vladimir Putin.
According to a poll carried out by the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, Vladimir Putin's approval rating rose by seven per cent in the last few weeks. As of January 15th, 52 per cent of voters are ready to vote for the incumbent prime minister. Thus, Putin will be already victorious in the first round of voting.
According to the poll, the Communists leader Gennady Zyuganov holds the second position, with 10-11 per cent of the vote. The third place belongs to the head of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, with 8-9 per cent of the vote. The leader of the social democratic party Just Russia, Sergey Mironov, gains 4-5 per cent while businessman Mikhail Prokhorov is at 3 per cent. Only 1-2 per cent of the voters are willing to vote for the leader of the liberal Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky, who was disqualified from the election due to claims he violated election rules.
Dinosaurs of the Yeltsin era
The main reason for the opposition candidates' poor performance is that the voters are even more tired of them than of Vladimir Putin. Yes, Putin has been in power for 12 years already, and many people are bored by his TV appearances. But Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and Yavlinsky battled Yeltsin for the presidency many years ago. The Communists leader is participating in the presidential election for the fifth time already. Everyone from political experts, voters, and the candidates themselves realise that they have no chance of winning whatsoever.
On the contrary, Putin joined the election race with all his might. He appears daily on the screen, he pens op-eds for federal newspapers, and he is a newsmaker. Comparing to last December, when on the eve of the elections to the Duma he kept a low-profile, Putin has greatly intensified his media profile. And it is yielding good results – a percentage of undecided voters are now leaning in his favour. If Putin does not make any serious mistakes during the remaining month, he is likely to win in the first round.
Removed from the election
The chances of Putin's victory in the first round also increased when it became known that Yavlinsky was not able to collect the two million signatures needed to favour his nomination. According to the law, only the parties present in the parliament can nominate candidates for president. Today there are four of them: United Russia – the candidate is Vladimir Putin, the Communist Party – the candidate is Gennady Zyuganov, Just Russia – the candidate is Sergey Mironov and the Liberal Democratic Party with the candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Candidates from outside need to collect two million supporting signatures. To verify their authenticity, the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC) checks a randomized 400 thousand signatures. If the number of invalid signatures is less than five per cent, the applicant is registered as a presidential candidate. It was reported on January 23rd that the percentage of invalid signatures on the election sheets supporting Yavlinsky was 23 per cent. Thus, he has no chance of being a presidential candidate. “The main task, which the authority will have to accomplish, is to make the election uncontested, to hold it in one round,” stated Yavlinsky at a press conference on this topic.
Yavlinsky's failure, from one point of view, plays into Putin’s hands: less participants in the elections means more chances to gain the necessary number of votes to win in the first round. From the other point of view, it is a chance for businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, who, unlike Yavlinsky, collected the required number of signatures. Now Prokhorov is the only liberal among the presidential candidates, which gives him the opportunity to consolidate the protest side of the liberal electorate.
Another factor in Prokhorov's favour is his “freshness”. He is participating in the presidential race for the first time, and he never engaged in public political activity until 2011. Prokhorov is the only new candidate for president, so he gets a lot of media attention. However, Prokhorov is no ordinary businessman, he is one of those who are called “oligarchs”. His assets are the result of “collateral privatisation” during the Boris Yeltsin era. The attitude to those events in Russian society is extremely negative. Therefore, Prokhorov is unlikely to win the presidential race.
With their own hands
It is fair to say that the opposition parties did refuse to do a real fight for the presidency. Yavlinsky himself, who speaks today of the “defeat of democracy”, practically guaranteed his own and his supporters' defeat by his authoritarian nomination.
Even before the official nomination of Yavlinsky as the Yabloko party candidate, experts predicted that he would not be able to collect the needed two million signatures. They recommended the party nominate Alexei Navalny, the popular anti-corruption blogger, who was once a member of the Yabloko party.
In this case, collecting signatures would have been much easier, because, firstly, Navalny is perceived by society as a politician who is fresh and more promising than Yavlinsky. Secondly, Navalny has many active supporters across the country who could have become volunteers for the campaign's organisation and for the collection of signatures itself.
However, Yabloko chose to nominate Yavlinsky, referring to the fact that Navalny is not a party member, besides, he adheres to a nationalist rhetoric. Hence, Yabloko members guaranteed their own electoral defeat at the stage of the candidate's nomination, regardless of the CEC’s decision concerning Yavlinsky's participation in the presidential race.
The Just Russia party could have made an even more powerful move. The media has been widely speculating Oksana Dmitrieva and her potential candidacy for president. This option could immediately change the balance of power in the pre-election race, as Dmitrieva is equally acceptable both for liberals and for leftists. In fact, she could unite all those disaffected with Vladimir Putin, and therefore be a real competitor to the current prime minister.
Moreover, Dmitrieva did not even have to collect signatures as Just Russia has a faction in the Duma, so it can nominate a presidential candidate directly. But the party has nominated the bleak Sergey Mironov, a former colleague of Putin, thus abandoning the real struggle for the presidency.
These choices have become the main factors that predetermined Putin's victory in the presidential race. Moreover, if it is possible to suspect that Just Russia members decided to play along with Putin, it is impossible to state the same about Yabloko. The problem is that Russia's opposition is much more authoritarian than the leadership. Each opposition party is a fixed hierarchical structure with the leader at the head of it. This explains the tenure of the main opposition candidates over many years.
Only when the Russian opposition will not only talk about democracy, but will become truly democratic itself will there will be a chance of holding genuinely competitive presidential elections in Russia.
Alexandr Yakuba is a freelance Russian journalist and analyst. He has worked for Rosbalt News and RBC magazine and was previously the editor of the economic portal "Anticrisis".
Translated by Olena Dmytryk